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Courts were unfair to boy who brought clock to school

Young people of color are disproportionately disciplined and singled out in America's classrooms, and the American ju...

Posted: Mar 22, 2018 3:39 PM
Updated: Mar 22, 2018 3:39 PM

Young people of color are disproportionately disciplined and singled out in America's classrooms, and the American judicial system is turning a blind eye.

Just consider the story of the Muslim boy who brought a homemade clock to school and was arrested over it. Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas high school student with a keen interest in robotics, made national headlines in September 2015 for this innocuous act.

When Ahmed, a Sudanese-American, showed his invention at school, one of his teachers asked, "Is that a bomb?" That interaction paved the way for a harrowing encounter with school administrators and the city's police officers, resulting in Ahmed's interrogation, arrest and three-day suspension for bringing in a "hoax bomb."

After charges against Ahmed were dropped, his family filed a lawsuit against the Irving Independent School District, the city of Irving and individual defendants, alleging that he was the target of discrimination because of his race and religion. The lawsuit also pointed to the broader context of anti-Muslim bias in Texas and to the higher suspension rates black students face in the Irving School District as important factors in understanding why Ahmed was mistreated.

But a federal judge in Texas recently dismissed the lawsuit. The court found that the complaint failed to make a plausible legal claim that Ahmed's constitutional rights were violated and characterized his allegations as "wholesale conclusory and speculative statements."

Ahmed's mistreatment may have been apparent to the entire world, but the law, at least according to this judge, didn't provide him a remedy.

Ahmed deserved better from the legal system. If the case had proceeded through the full discovery process of sharing documents and taking depositions, we could have learned more about the details of Ahmed's treatment by school administrators and police officers as well as the broader climate facing students of color in the school district.

Yet the court in Texas bypassed a deeper exploration of these issues by dismissing the case. This isn't a loss for Ahmed alone, but for all black and brown students who are experiencing the impact of punitive treatment within their school walls and a climate of bigotry outside of them.

Discriminatory disciplinary practices targeting black students has become a national crisis as the Department of Education has found that black students are three more times more likely to be suspended than white students are. Black girls are acutely affected and are being suspended at higher rates than any other girls of color.

Students from Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities also face challenges because they are viewed as suspicious and dangerous in the post-9/11 environment. And, in the wake of Ahmed's encounter, other Muslim students reported being targeted by anti-violent extremism initiatives at their schools, dragged out by school security personnel and suspended for minor infractions.

These overall trends have continued since President Donald Trump took office. A 2017 poll from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that one in four Muslim bullying incidents involves a teacher. Sikh children face bullying at double the national rate, according to the Sikh Coalition. And a 2017 survey from the National Women's Law Center found that 55% of Latina girls, 38% of Asian/Pacific Islander girls and 30% of black girls worry about a friend or family member being deported.

In short, immigrant students and students of color are experiencing bias and bigotry in their classrooms, playgrounds and neighborhoods. School administrators and educators must be cognizant of the racial realities that young people encounter daily.

And the legal system must take seriously the complaints of young people of color who face police brutality, stop and frisk, deportations and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Otherwise, young people will confront challenges ranging from achievement and wage gaps to isolation to a sense that they just don't belong in America.

We can and must do better to address the racial realities that young people face in America today, and there are a few concrete steps we can take. School officials must heed the recommendations of organizations such as the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights group, and Desis Rising Up and Moving, which organizes low-wage South Asian workers and youth in New York City, by focusing on opportunities for collaborative problem-solving rather than simply relying on punitive disciplinary measures. Schools must set and evaluate equity benchmarks to close the achievement gap that often widens when children of color are suspended or expelled.

Students and teachers should receive ongoing anti-racist training and address the consequences of systemic racism and intergenerational trauma through inclusive curricula and honest dialogues. School counselors must provide culturally specific services and resources to children who feel targeted to strengthen their mental well-being and self-esteem. Parent-teacher associations and school boards must ensure that schools remain places of sanctuary and refuge for students. And students must be supported so they can organize, dissent and raise their voices.

There was a simple reason why Americans responded with compassion and outrage when they first heard about Ahmed Mohamed. The legal system may ignore the culture of anti-black and anti-Muslim bias that pervades our school systems and country. But we knew better then, and we must do our part now to fight for justice for Ahmed and children like him in America.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 67649

Reported Deaths: 1912
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5613118
DeSoto365831
Harrison252036
Madison242266
Rankin228334
Jackson227642
Jones189958
Forrest180656
Washington166341
Lee146241
Lauderdale141292
Neshoba128692
Lamar122014
Oktibbeha112239
Bolivar111334
Warren109333
Lowndes107737
Panola105913
Sunflower103925
Scott100320
Lafayette97316
Copiah95428
Pike93636
Leflore93363
Holmes89248
Grenada84721
Yazoo83112
Pontotoc8278
Lincoln81741
Monroe79655
Simpson79630
Leake78825
Wayne76721
Coahoma76013
Tate73429
Marshall6959
Marion67720
Union63616
Adams62325
Winston62016
Covington61213
George5815
Pearl River55039
Newton54211
Tallahatchie53110
Attala52225
Walthall50220
Chickasaw46219
Noxubee45711
Alcorn4285
Calhoun4189
Tishomingo4175
Prentiss41210
Claiborne40713
Smith40513
Clay39614
Hancock39014
Jasper3869
Tippah36613
Itawamba35910
Tunica3377
Clarke32726
Montgomery3265
Lawrence3238
Yalobusha31510
Humphreys29311
Quitman2691
Carroll26111
Greene25012
Perry2367
Webster23412
Kemper23314
Amite2326
Jefferson Davis2316
Wilkinson21213
Stone1995
Sharkey1975
Jefferson1967
Benton1441
Choctaw1344
Franklin1272
Issaquena261
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 99390

Reported Deaths: 1733
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13109243
Mobile9947207
Montgomery6835148
Madison537834
Tuscaloosa421373
Unassigned359961
Baldwin354425
Shelby328335
Marshall316736
Lee267845
Morgan239318
Etowah212131
DeKalb181913
Calhoun178414
Elmore172338
Walker152664
Houston139812
Russell13682
St. Clair133817
Limestone133313
Dallas132323
Franklin127420
Cullman122512
Colbert118113
Autauga116921
Lauderdale116719
Escambia108217
Talladega102614
Jackson9894
Tallapoosa85579
Chambers84138
Dale83424
Blount8004
Chilton7926
Butler76436
Coffee7616
Covington73520
Pike7097
Clarke6629
Barbour5755
Marion57424
Lowndes57224
Marengo55215
Hale47626
Bullock46411
Winston45311
Perry4424
Bibb4385
Wilcox42910
Monroe4214
Randolph40110
Pickens4009
Conecuh39310
Washington39112
Sumter36018
Lawrence3491
Macon33514
Crenshaw3185
Choctaw28312
Cherokee2737
Henry2633
Geneva2611
Clay2585
Greene25111
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